Engaged learning courses incorporate service work

Robyn Wishna
The first graduating class of the Cornell Prison Education Program at Auburn Correctional Facility prepares to receive an associate's degree in June.

"All of us learn better, and contribute more, if we engage in both reflection and action," says associate professor of history Raymond Craib, one of many College of Arts and Sciences faculty members who match word and deed through community engaged learning.

Craib's Migrant Workers in the Americas class covers the history and contemporary reality of migrant labor. Developed by Craib, Leonardo Vargas-Mendez, director of the Public Service Center, and Herb Engman, former director of the Cornell Migrant Program, the course "combines intellectual labor with experiential labor, theory and practice, by integrating weekly seminar sessions with weekly service work," explains Craib. "The basic premise for community-based learning is that all of us learn better, and contribute more, if we understand how reflection and action constantly impact each other."

Adrian Palma '13, a student in history professor Maria Cristina Garcia's Immigration Since 1968 course, agrees. "The knowledge gained through a public engagement course is rarely found in other courses that do not offer the opportunity to actively engage with different communities and individuals of distinct walks of life," says Palma. "For me, the experience was invaluable."

Students in Garcia's course, which covers immigrant issues and history, are asked to work with an individual or an agency that serves immigrants. Students have accompanied doctors to dairy farms to provide information on nutrition and diabetes control; worked as translators at Cayuga Medical Center and as teacher aides at adult language programs and an after-school program for Burmese children; and helped immigrants navigate government bureaucracies through the Immigrant Services Project at Catholic Charities.

"Because Ithaca is home to a large population of refugees and immigrants, it offers students a wonderful opportunity to examine in a very personal way the challenges that immigrants and refugees face when accommodating to a new society," says Garcia.

Cornell's Public Service Center plans and executes community engaged learning components of many Arts and Sciences courses, including Garcia's and Craib's.

Asian American Communities, a course taught by Derek Chang, associate professor of history and director of the Asian American Studies Program, also looks at immigrant populations, focusing on community and how class, gender, migration and family relations affect belonging. Students work with local agencies and organizations to address the needs of Asian immigrants and Asian Americans in Tompkins County, focusing on enhancing immigrants' English proficiency, says Chang.

Goldwin Smith Professor of Anthropology Davydd Greenwood's course Democratizing Research: Participation, Action and Research helps students experience a participatory approach to research by converting the class into a collaborative learning community. The students also design their own community engagement projects. "In this type of engaged approach, research is a means of social learning and change," explains Greenwood.

The John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines develops writing courses and projects that include civic engagement, according to director Paul Sawyer. This summer he appointed Darlene Evans as the program's first director of writing outreach; she'll offer guidance to instructors to integrate writing into new and existing service learning courses.

One such Knight course is Writing Behind Bars, offered in collaboration with the Cornell Prison Education Program and coordinated by Sawyer. "Undergraduates often find that breaching the prison walls becomes a life-changing experience," he says. "The course helps them reflect on that experience and put the lives of inmates and their own lives at Cornell in social perspective."

Linda B. Glaser is staff writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.


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